Blog

In the Studio . . . continuing

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As I write this, I am aware that a wide range of people read this blog. For those who don’t paint – this will give you a glimpse into that so often heard comment

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“I wouldn’t know where to begin!”

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Drawing

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What comes first? Setting up the composition and drawing it out /blocking it in. This first stage shapes the painting, it’s good to keep and open mind, to be really sure that it’s going to please you, that way it will probably please others . 

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Coming from a discipline where accuracy in drawing is important, let me encourage whoever is reading this to find ways to work on your drawing.  When we are making a painting – we are drawing with paint, not just lines but masses, brush strokes that have volume and width. The placement of these lines and masses of various lights and darks and their colours, are what makes a believable Realist Painting that convey solidity and space.  

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Some Principles

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Lets start with a few general principles which are used at the beginning of each drawing or painting – the very basis of ‘all of it’.

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NB By the way, if you are using graphite or charcoal just translate ‘brush’ to an HB pencil or vine charcoal and make light, soft, thick lines that can be fined down with a kneadable eraser as things get more certain.

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General to Specific.

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I have set up my subject and have lit it with a strong light that gives me clear and moderately dramatic shadows. My easel is angled in a way so that I can use my one strong light source to paint by (at this stage). I’m excluding as much light from other sources as possible which gives me shadows that are as clear as possible.

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Not all these things may be available for everyone – but it’s worth trying to follow them as closely as you can.

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Let’s think! I am painting a composition on a canvas that has a defined rectangular shape and I am considering how and where the placement will work within that rectangle. How high, or low or centrally placed things are.

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Suggestion: Make a small frame preferably made out of grey cardboard. Really neatly cut a window to the proportion of the canvas or paper. Holding this ‘window’ in front of yourself at different distances and framing the still life in different ways, play around with different compositions, even do a few sketches or take photos and look at them – I find looking at a photo can help me see the overall composition.

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Card frames with different proportions

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This is the crop I chose – I like things to be really big on the canvas with space at the top – to breath. Even when the canvas is small it makes the image much stronger, closer and more splendid. I have blackout curtains and it just happened, when I was setting this up that I had opened one of the curtains a little. By pure chance – this lovely shaft of sunlight streaked across the composition, backlighting the rose – giving that wonderful stained glass flatness to the petals that were acting like a filter for the strong light.

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This inspiring light effect needed replicating. I used a small micro beam light – with a bulb lasted 7 hours – I counted the painting hours in bulb replacements!

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Blocking in the Drawing

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Using a dry bristle brush, draw out the composition with the absolute minimum of raw umber oil paint possible. Use either Sight Size* or Comparative Measurement* to slowly plot and draw thick, faint straight or nearly straight lines that can be refined as things take shape.

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Here you can see part way through the process – I’ve got enough to make plenty of horizontal and vertical alignments But I did start by finding one or two objects/ measurements that I go on to use as a ‘canon’ or unit of measurement and another to double check – a slow painstaking process but well worth the efforts. The first drawing uses only straight lines. I have to admit that the vase is curved here but you can see the straight lines I used to get there.

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Reliable reference points – that is what is wanted. I know I shall have to ‘nudge and shift’ things a little as the work progresses – hence the thick lines. To develop this stage, I check the position of what I draw with the linear alignment holding my measure (usually a thin, poker-straight metal knitting needle) either absolutely vertically, or absolutely horizontally.

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How to hold your measure

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To ensure it is vertical – holding the knitting needle pointing downwards with finger and thumb so lightly it is almost dropping out of your grasp. Then use it to take your measurement.

To ensure it is horizontal – hold the needle with both hands and line it up with a horizontal, then shift it to where you want to measure keeping it true to horizontal.

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I use a spirit level at the start of every still life I make, to mark a strong horizontal on my canvas – usually the table top ! I check this when the canvas is on my easel and then keep checking what lines up, both in the actual still life composition and ensure I have the same on my canvas. I often re-check by re-measuring and if it isn’t right – and change things.

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Some of those wise words

Don’t leave anything on your canvas that you see is wrong!

If you don’t like it, find out why and what is wrong before continuing. No matter how long it takes

Keep an open mind. Something can look wrong because something else is affecting it – ask yourself questions and look at ‘negative shapes’ to check your answers.

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Keep things simple and Group the Shadows together as much as you can.

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All is in place ?

Ready to give the shadows a light tone with a nearly dry as a bone brush holding the minimum of paint and not a scrap of mineral spirit. Keep checking and don’t leave anything on the canvas that is not wanted or is incorrect as it will simply confuse.

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Dry brush? No medium? This is not Alla Prima painting. Instead it is a way to build up a painting in layers over time letting each layer dry before working on. The reason for dry brush in this place is so you can shift things around and to prevent excessive Sinking In later on. (Sinking in always happens a bit particularly to earth colours). I have added some info on Oiling in, which is necessary for this method of working but very occasionally to keep a good strong drying structure to the painting.

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Once the overall drawing is in place and I am happy with this stage, I start refining the thick lines, paring them down to thin, specific lines. Can be done with a kneadable eraser or, my favorite with an old, worn down size 2 or 4 filbert bristle brush used like an eraser/ pusher/ pencil (as long as the dry brush lines were genuinely dry brush). Keep looking and checking. I use measurements and alignments lots as I find more and more that links together in this way.

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Take a step back and look at the Composition you have in front of you Blocked In on your canvas or board. Like it? It will be the scaffolding of your work, so make sure.

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I would apologise for repeating myself but for this way of working, which I love, accuracy matters. So . . .

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When you are happy with your composition, its accuracy, its placement on your canvas or board, its interest, start putting in the . . .

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Large Local Colours

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Also known as Dead Colour, the paint is flat and the aim is to cover the whole canvas with no gaps – or halos around the edges.

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Each large area/ part of the painting will have two main values/ colours. One value/ colour for the parts in shadow, and another for the rest which will be the lights . . 

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I must confess there is a little big form modelling going on here and there as I just needed to test the water and see – in the case of the vase – “what happens if . . .”

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Example :

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. . . Take the whole face, – there will be darks (shadow) and lights (the rest of it all). The hair will be dealt with like this, the shadow areas and the light areas. A vase, or a flower? The same – the parts that are shadows and the parts that are lights.

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Each large area is blocked in with one value / colour that is general to that area. This means it is an average of what you see . . . . One will be the overall shadow. The other will start just by the shadow and include all the light parts . . .

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NB The highlights are not included in this generalization.

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Paint

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Here you can begin with the Munsell System although I mix up this approximation without it. Trying to match an overall colour is a good exercise.

Keep the paint as thin as possible and as thick as necessary. I use a bristle brush usually without any medium at this stage so it is slow work. Again, this is good for subsequent applications of paint. Avoid sharp/hard edges. If there are any, soften them a little at the end of your session with a clean dry brush – don’t let them dry as you won’t be able to get rid of them. The definition of things can be considered once everything is in place.

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Start with the background and paint both the shadows that fall on it – the darks – and the rest – the lights.

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Continue with each part of your composition dealing with it in the same way – each part has a dark (shadows) and lights. Keep them clearly defined and separate – but no sharp/ hard edges . Getting these general values/ colours will help you move forward with the next steps. This flat dead colour stage provides a ground for the next ‘pass’

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Let the paint dry

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Don’t be impatient! Next time I’ll take up from here where there is modelling.

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Here are a few descriptions of terms

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Oiling in

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Oil paint will tend to sink in – which means that it can become dull and lighter when dry.  Even taking steps to try and avoid this, it can still it happens.  On dry paint, use very, very sparing amounts of oil spreading it evenly over the whole surface with a triangular wedge shaped makeup sponge, to get the full saturation back. Don’t use excess – very, very little oil and wiping any extra off with the sponge.  Check that the paint is dry or you will be wiping it off and you don’t want to do this, try a small area before you do the whole canvas. If you are using a different medium than just oil, use it instead, but the absolute minimum.

Practice this and remember only use as much oil as you need and as little as possible. If you have used too much you may get drips. Later on double check there aren’t any drips and if there are, use the small make-up sponge to soak up the excess. You will see the surface by sighting along the canvas from the side.

Chroma

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Some paint colour are high chroma some are low.  The low chroma will have a low tinting power.  This means they will have a small affect on changing the colour of another paint.   As you get to know the colours you paint with you will recognize this.  Do get to know a small range of colours and make them work for you.  You need remarkably few, but lots of understanding.

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Drawing

As I write this, I am aware as always that the very first and last consideration is the drawing. Working hard at accuracy in particular is so useful. It is the most fundamental tool in realist painting, best done with practice and care.

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I have some pdf’s and and happy to pass them on to help you with your own endeavours – see the Free Giveaway option on the right.

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* Measuring – Comparative & Sight Size

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I shall be creating a way to explain and show the different Measuring Methods that I have referred to.

Glossary of some expressions

Value, Hue, Chroma, Block In Large Local Colour.

Value is how light or dark

Hue is the colour family

Chroma is how vivid that colour is

Block In is the initial drawing of the work – can also have the shadows toned in

Large Local Colour is the average of a particular area.

The principles I write about are invaluable guides. Once understood and mastered you can go back a step when things get muddled or confusing, re-establishing things that may have gone amiss.

It strikes me when I write this that with every single painting I make I am practicing – each set up is different. I’m never aiming at the end – I simply want to know HOW?

Do let me know what works for you . . .

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